How to Write Back Story also Running is Evil
Hey baby, what’s your back story?
It should be a pick-up line at a bar, yet it somehow is not a pick-up line at any bar that I know of except maybe in a New Yorkercartoon or a bar in a town where there’s one of those MFA programs in writing literature for literary people doing literary things.
Anyway, it’s a term writers throw around all the time and it is basically just how we imagine our characters’ lives went before they are in the actual story that we’re writing.
I know! How can you imagine that your character had a life before your story? It’s like imagining your spouse had a life before you that wasn’t totally centered around you. Us narcissists have a hard time with that.
Do you know, in nine hundred years of time and space, I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important… Stephen Moffat, Dr. Who, A Christmas Carol
According to a post on Now Novelthere are three uses of back story.
- Developing the understanding of the characters. Like if your dad died of a heart attack in front of you and you couldn’t save him, then your character might have a savior complex. It helps the reader understand your characters’ motivations.
- It can heighten the stakes and the suspense. You were once addicted to dating cops. Cops were always bad for you. Will you date this one? NO! YOU MUST NOT.
- It makes it real damn it. By the time, you make it into a book, you’re not going to be a blank slate, born out of Zeus’ head or a clamshell fully formed on page 1. We all have prologues.
Standout asks how much back story does a story need and answers its own question pretty simply:
If judged solely on complexity, the answer to ‘how much back story should I include?’ would be ‘enough to pay for the reader’s efforts,’ however you also need to consider immersion. - Standout
Here is our advice:
- Don’t be fake. Don’t be pretend. We all know people who show up at a party, engage in small talk about absolutely nothing other than the weather, the traffic, where they work. There is no underlayment. It’s like they are a rug thrown on the floor, but if you touch that rug it will just slip away because there’s nothing holding it there.
- Do not let your characters be rugs.
- Ground those suckers with nails and staples if you have to. ModPodge them to the floor, give them a life before you.
- Don’t tell us everything about them. We do not know that they prefer Aquafina to Poland Spring water or that they had an ingrown toenail when they were twenty-four any more than you want to know about the guy at the party’s hemorrhoid treatment unless it’s really good. Be sparing.
Stephen King: The most important things to remember about back story are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn’t very interesting.
Writing Tip of the Pod
Find the balance in your backstory and your life.
Dog Tip for Life
Run through adversity. Don’t give up.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Night Owl” by Broke For Free.
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